Management vs. Leadership

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post on the delegation of management duties, and I got some interesting feedback, specifically regarding leadership. While I only tangentially touched on leadership directly, it's natural to bring it up in the context on management, as they are so closely intertwined that they are often considered the same thing. They are, in fact, not the same thing, but it's worth expanding on the relationship and highlighting some crucial differences.

Good Management Requires Leadership

Yes, good management requires leadership -- this is not a controversial statement. Amazon has more than half a million books listed on "Business Management", and I'll bet almost all of them either say this explicitly or just take it as a given.

When we refer to upper management as "Leadership", it's really a shorthand in that so many of their responsibilities require leadership to execute successfully that it becomes almost a distinction without a difference. Leadership may come from anyone within an organization, and does not denote a certain set of duties or tasks, yet trying to imagine upper management succeeding in their roles without demonstrating significant leadership is...difficult, to say the least.

A well-functioning team, however, may continue doing well for some time with a new manager who lacks leadership. Such a manager might carry on, executing his or her nominal duties, and if the team already knows how to succeed in their current environment, they may continue to do so for some time. This may look sneakily like success. However, if a change of direction is needed, or unexpected circumstances crop up, real leadership will be required to navigate the team in a new direction. Without that, the team will almost certainly flounder and fail.

Leadership can be found in many places, not just management

While management requires leadership to be effective, leadership does not require a management position to make an impact. In any organization, there are lots of ways to demonstrate leadership outside of official duties, and there are many leaders who either do not want management duties, or do not possess the skills to be effective in that role.

Organizations should encourage this kind of leadership, rather than promoting a culture where only those with official positions can push through changes. Indeed, I've found that whenever I've been forced to fall back on my authority as a manager to get something done, I've inevitably failed as a leader. Conversely, one great test of leadership skills is within volunteer organizations, where everyone is there because they want to be, and authority is only as valuable as a person's ability to persuade others.

I became a Manager because I was already a Leader

I firmly believe that I was asked to take a management role because I has already demonstrated leadership within my organization, and that had I not been doing so, I would still be in an individual contributor role.

The converse, however, is not necessarily true, and is perhaps the basic premise of the Dilbert comic strip.

You can't delegate Leadership

If you are in a leadership role, you can delegate a lot, but you can't delegate the leadership your role demands. That's because leadership isn't a task or a duty; it's a quality of the person demonstrating it. No organization has a finite amount of "leadership" that they need; encouraging leadership in those that report to you doesn't diminish your own leadership status -- rather, it enhances it.

There's plenty else I could say about management and leadership -- just look at all the digital ink spilled on Amazon, for example. But if I had an overall point here, it would be this: don't promote someone into management just because they're good at the job they currently have -- subject matter expertise does not substitute for real leadership.

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